Farewell

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter 

June 4, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have two farewell readings.

Jn17_2

It’s an appropriate theme at this time of weddings, graduations, retirements, house-hunting, and other temporary or final leave-takings.

Farewells are tough, aren’t they? They are an uneven mix of sadness and joy, one party often more heavily burdened than the other.

I think of the day I left home to enter the convent. I was bursting with joy, enthusiasm, curiosity and wonder. But I was woefully unaware of my parent’s profound sense of loss. It was a stunningly uneven farewell that I only came to understand in my growing maturity.

In our readings today, Paul and Jesus are poignantly aware of their farewells. 

Paul says:

But now I know that none of you
to whom I preached the kingdom during my travels
will ever see my face again.

And Jesus says:

And now I will no longer be in the world,
but (my followers) are in the world,
while I am coming to the Father.

Both Paul and Jesus use their farewells to pray for their disciples, to confirm their strength, and to proclaim that their followers are ready to carry on the mission. You can almost envision these two great mentors releasing their disciples into the fullness of their own call.

Over our lifetimes, we will love and mentor many people: children, friends, students, protégés. There will come times when we must release them into new dimensions of their lives.

Sometimes we are the ones breaking forth to a new horizon, strengthened by the generous direction of those we leave behind.

In each situation, may we treasure the love that is generous enough to give new life. May we bless one another with a magnanimity like that of Jesus when He made his farewell:

I pray for you and …
I will ask the Father
and he will give you his Spirit
to be with you always.

As I look back on that day long ago, standing with my parents at the front door of the Motherhouse, it was that kind of farewell that they unselfishly gave to me.

Music: Spirit of Life by Carolyn McDade

Bright with Love

Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter

May 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, the inevitable shadow falls over the early Christian community. Stephen is martyred – the first, the proto-martyr of many, down through the centuries, who will die for their faith.

Acts8_2 Stephen

This slaughter of innocence happened at the feet, and at the approbation, of Saul – yet untouched by the glorious grace of Christ.

How the community must have mourned beloved Stephen who, as our hymn describes him, was “bright with Love”:

  • Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5)
  • Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8)
  • All those who sat in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen and saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Acts 6:15)
  • Stephen, filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God  (Acts 7:8)
  • Stephen, as they were stoning him, called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. ( Acts 7:55)
  • What a treasure of a man! What a devastation to see his young, gracious life crushed by rejection, suffering and pain!

It is so hard to lose our prophets and saints!

I still remember, with great awe, the funeral of our Sister Mary Joanna Regan – one of the graced treasures of the Sisters of Mercy. Our Beloved Community was raw with her loss – as was the larger community of her love and influence.

Joanna’s dear friend, Father John Comey, SJ – now also of beloved memory – preached the sermon at her funeral liturgy. This was his first sentence:

How can such a woman die?

Dear Readers, haven’t we all felt that way in the face of some great loss? Whenever human frailty seems to bend to the powers of death, hatred, or oppression, our souls are crushed. We are astounded that life and goodness seem to yield. So was the early Christian Church when Stephen seemed to fall to hateful hands.

Nevertheless, they believed that there is an eternal life in God beyond that apparent yielding.  They persisted in the ardent work of building up the reign of Christ.

Now those who had been scattered
continued preaching the word. … and
there was great joy in that city.

And the witness of Stephen impelled not only them, but twenty centuries of committed Christians who find their fullness of life in Jesus Christ.

Certainly our Church, with its many recent fractures and falls, needs a resilient, faithful community to lift it up and carry it forward. Let’s pray to St. Stephen today that we may be that community!

(English and Latin canticle today, plus lovely poem after them)

Music:  Sancte Dei, Pretiose  – sung by the Benedictine Monks of St. Michael’s de Laudes

Latin Version
Sancte Dei, pretiose,
Protomartyr Stephane,
Qui virtute caritatis
Circumfulsus undique,
Dominum pro inimico
Exorasti populo
Et coronae qua nitescis
Almus sacri nominis,
Nos, qui tibi famulamur,
Fac consortes fieri :
Et expertes dirae mortis
In die Judicii.
Gloria et honor Deo
Qui te flora roseo
Coronavit et locavit
In throno sidereo :
Salvet reos, solvens eos
A mortis aculeo. Amen.

English Version
Saint of God, elect and precious,
Protomartyr Stephen, bright
With thy love of amplest measure,
Shining round thee like a light;
Who to God commendest, dying,
Them that did thee all despite.
Glitters now the crown above thee,
Figured in thy honored name:
O that we, who truly love thee.
May have portion in the same;
In the dreadful day of judgment
Fearing neither sin nor shame.
Laud to God, and might, and honor,
Who with flowers of rosy dye
Crowned thy forehead, and hath placed thee
In the starry throne on high:
He direct us, He protect us,
From death’s sting eternally.


Poem: St. Stephen by Malcolm Guite

Witness for Jesus, man of fruitful blood,
Your martyrdom begins and stands for all.
They saw the stones, you saw the face of God,
And sowed a seed that blossomed in St. Paul.
When Saul departed breathing threats and slaughter
He had to pass through that Damascus gate
Where he had held the coats and heard the laughter
As Christ, alive in you, forgave his hate,
And showed him the same light you saw from heaven
And taught him, through his blindness, how to see;
Christ did not ask ‘Why were you stoning Stephen?’
But ‘Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
Each martyr after you adds to his story,
As clouds of witness shine through clouds of glory

Sorrow

 

rock

Sorrow

You must be alone

with sorrow

before you can leave it,

or it will crush you

like a black, heavy rock.

You must drive into

the hollow of its face,

under the ledges

it projects against you.

Feel its cold granite

pressed to your grain.

In time,

it will allow your turning

to rest your back

within its curve.

Only then,

you will be free to leave it,

walking lightly once again

on yielding earth.

When you return, it will be freely,

on a pilgrimage,

to touch the name you carved once

with the anguish of your heart.

Music:  Seeking Serenity – Nicholas Gunn

Holy Saturday

 Alternative Reading for Today: Walter Brueggemann

Holy Saturday

Today, in Mercy, we join Mary and the disciples as they deal with Christ’s death. No doubt, the range of emotions among them was as great as it would be among any group or family losing someone they dearly loved.

They had entered, with heart-wrenching drama, into a period of bereavement over the loss of Jesus. Doubt, hope, loss, fear, sadness and remembered joy vied for each of their hearts. They comforted one another and tried to understand each other’s handling of their terrible shared bereavement.

They did just what we all do as families, friends and communities when our beloved dies.

But ultimately, our particular bereavement belongs to us alone, woven from the many experiences we have had with the person who has died. These are personal and indescribable, as is the character of our pain and loss.

Do not be afraid of your bereavement.  It is a gift of love.

Holy Saturday, like bereavement, is a time of infrangible silence. No matter how many “whys” we throw heavenward, no answer comes. It is a time to test what Love has meant to us and, even as it seems to leave us, how it will live in us.

As we pray today with the bereaved Mother and disciples, let us fold all our bereavements into their love.  We already know the joyful end to the story, so let us pray today with honesty but also with unconquerable hope that we will live and love again.

Separately, I will send two poems today that I hope may help with your prayer.

Music:  Farewell – Michael Hoppé

 

Good Friday

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Good Friday

Good Friday

Calvary was a glass box where God,
confined, no longer touched the world.

 It was a white plain, without sound,
not the groaning, blood-soaked hill
the scriptures leave us.

 I know.

Calvary hewed itself inside me once
with the chisel of a long sorrow
that fell, persistent, merciless
like cold, steel rain.

 It was a place bereft of feeling.

Only the anticipation and
the memory of pain are feelings.
Pain itself is a huge abyss,
bled by the silence that mimics death,
but is not as kind as death.

 Calvary is the place where
all strength is given
to the drawing of a breath
to linger in it unfulfilled.

God, now I go quietly inside
where you are dying in a glass box, still.
I am changing now to glass
to pass through and companion you.

 I watch the rain, itself like glass,
crashing to an unknown life
beneath the earth.  Where love roots
absolute, unbreakable, I cling to you
in a transparent act of will.

Music: Handel: Messiah – Part 2

Fearful Tuesday

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, as Holy Week deepens, so does confusion, fear, and even betrayal among Christ’s disciples.

fearful tuesday

In today’s Gospel, we see Judas turn from his own truth to a disastrous treachery.

We see John and Peter full of questions, confused by the turn of events. Jesus foretells the impending denial by Peter, his chosen successor.

The great trials of Christ’s Passion and Death emerge from the shadows of rumor and deception. Jesus makes it clear that the end is near.

As we read the passage, we can feel the fear mounting in everyone but Jesus. In him, we see see Isaiah’s description strengthening- the Lord’s Glorious Servant rising as the Light of Nations.

Fear destroys while trust and hope liberate.

Praying with this Gospel this morning, I remember the face of a woman I had seen on the evening news. At a contentious political rally, she was loudly shouting her preference to live under a dictator rather than live in a country “full of filthy immigrants”. She thought her raging made her strong. But I saw a person filled with ignorance and fear.

I can’t forget her face. It so saddened me to see the child of a beautiful God so distorted by weakness, prejudice and fear. She could no longer see the face of God in another human being. I think hers would have been the face I saw on Judas, had I met him as he left the Last Supper.

Fear is a disfiguring disease. It seeps into our heart and mind to blind and deafen us to God’s power in our life. It cripples our graced potential. It eventually kills the “glorious servant” we too have been called to become.

Paula D’Arcy says this:

Who would I be,
and what power
would be expressed in my life,
if I were not dominated by fear?

It’s a powerful question.

How does fear keep me:

  • from loving?
  • from hoping?
  • from believing?
  • from giving?
  • from receiving?

Today’s Responsorial Psalm, filled with beautiful phrases, offers us a heartfelt prayer as we place our fears in God’s hands:

R. I will sing of your salvation.
In you, O LORD, I take refuge;

let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me, and deliver me;
incline your ear to me, and save me.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
Be my rock of refuge,

a stronghold to give me safety,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
For you are my hope, O LORD;

my trust, O God, from my youth.
On you I depend from birth;
from my mother’s womb you are my strength.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
My mouth shall declare your justice,

day by day your salvation.
O God, you have taught me from my youth,
and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
R. I will sing of your salvation.

Music:  Where Feet May Fail – Hillsong

Will You Anoint Him?

Monday, April 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, as we set out with Jesus on the path to Calvary, we might consider his companions who accompanied him.

John12_3 Mary

Closest to Christ’s heart on this journey is his Father. Today’s first reading gives us some insight into that profound divine sharing:

Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spreads out the earth with its crops,
Who gives breath to its people
and spirit to those who walk on it:
I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
To open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

In other words, “Have courage, Son, I am with you.”

His disciples, women and men committed to the Gospel, also share the dramatic events of these days. Our Gospel today gives us Mary of Bethany, a leader and gatherer of the early Christian community. Her heart is broken at the now obvious prospect of Jesus’s death. In the name of their primal church, Mary offers Jesus the first sacrament of anointing.

In other words, “Have courage, Beloved Leader, we are with you.”

On this Monday morning of Holy Week, where are we in the community gathered around Jesus? How are we speaking to him, comforting him, loving him?

Jesus’s Passion is enfleshed in our time in the suffering of the poor, the refugee, the sick, the disenfranchised, those called “vermin” by the powerful. How am I with Jesus in his anguish today?

Music:  Two offerings today, one classical, one modern.

Timor et Tremor – from Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence (Four Penitential Motets) by Francis Poulenc

 

Pour My Love on You –  Phillips, Craig & Dean

The Raising of Lazarus

800px-Raising-of-Lazarus
from wiki commons

Evidently, this was needed. Because people need
to be screamed at with proof.
But Jesus knew his friends. Before they were,
he knew them; and they knew
that he would never leave them
desolate here. So he let his exhausted eyes close
at first glimpse of the village.
And immediately he seemed
to be standing in their midst.
Here was Martha, the dead boy’s sister.
He knew he would always find her
at his right hand, and beside her
Mary. They were all here.
Yet opening his eyes it was not so.
He was standing apart,
even the two women
slowly backing away,
as if from concern for their good name.

Then he began to hear voices
muttering under their breath
quite distinctly; or thinking,
Lord, if you had been here
our friend might not have died
.
(At that, he seemed to reach out
to touch someone’s face
with infinite gentleness,
and silently wept.) He asked them the way
to the grave. And he followed
behind them, preparing
to do what is not done
to that green silent place
where life and death are one. 

Merely to walk down this road
had started to feel like a test,
or a poorly prepared-for performance
with actors unsure of their lines,
or which play they were supposed to be in;
a feverish outrage rising inside him
at the glib ease with which words like “living”
and “being dead” rolled off their tongues.
And awe flooded his body
when he hoarsely cried,
“Move the stone!”

“By now he must stink,”
somebody helpfully shouted.
(And it was true, the body
had been lying in the tomb
four days.) But he was far away,
too far away inside himself
to hear it, beginning
to fill with that gesture
which rose through him:
no hand this heavy
had ever been raised, no human hand
had ever reached this height
shining an instant in air, then
all at once clenching into itself
at the thought all the dead might return
from that tomb where
the enormous cocoon
of the corpse was beginning to stir.

In the end, though, nobody stood
there at its entrance
but the young man
who had freed his right arm
and was pulling at his face,
at small strips of grave wrappings.
Peter looked across at Jesus
with an expression that seemed to say
You did it, or What have you done? And all
saw how their vague and inaccurate
life made room for him once more.

~ by Franz Wright from a fragment by Rainer Maria Rilke ~

Music: Franz Schubert – The Raising of Lazarus ( For more info on music, click here )

Come Forth from the Darkness

Saturday, April 13, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings make it clear that, now, no one in Jerusalem is indifferent about Jesus.

Lazarus come forth

The raising of Lazarus from the dead has pretty much sealed the deal for Jesus. Imagine what that scene must have been like! Picture yourself at the cemetery, laying your Easter palm crosses, and suddenly your beloved rises from the dead!

The Gospel offers an unbelievably stoical comment: 

Many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what Jesus had done
began to believe in him.

Are you kidding me? You bet I’d believe in someone with that kind of power!

So what held the others back from believing? What holds us back from giving it all to God?

Fear?
Jealousy?
Loss of control?
A shallow heart?
A dulled spirit?

In our first reading, God once again promises:

I will deliver them from all their sins of faithlessness,
and cleanse them so that they may be my people
and I may be their God.

Just as Christ delivered Lazarus from the grave, and Mary and Martha from their mourning, may we be delivered from anything that binds us from the fullness of life in God.

(I will send a powerful poem along later today. I think it is worth taking time with.)

Music: Lazarus, Come Forth – The Bishops (Lyrics below)

Lazarus, Come Forth

Heartbroken, tears fallin’
Martha found Jesus
She questioned why Lazarus had died.
When she had thus spoken
Her doubts were then silenced
He walked toward the body and cried.

(Chorus)
Lazarus, come forth,
Awake like the morning
Arise with new hope,
A new life is born.

Lazarus, come forth,
From death now awaken,
For Jesus has spoken,
Death’s chains have been broken
Lazarus, come forth.

The tomb now was empty,
Martha stopped crying
Her brother now stood by her side.
The Pharisees wondered
About what had happened,
How could one now live who had died.

The reason this story
Gives hope to so many
Is although we know we must die,
Our bodies won’t stay there
In cold and dark silence
We’ll hear Jesus cry from on high.

Children come forth,
Awake like the morning
Arise with new hope,
A new life is born.
Children, come forth,

From death now awaken,
For Jesus has spoken,
Death’s chains have been broken
Children, come forth.

For Jesus has spoken,
Death’s chains have been broken
My children, come forth.

 

 

I Will Raise Up a Sign

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, there are some common threads running through our readings.

Jn8_28 sign

In the passage from Numbers, we have a restless crowd, confused and hungry, feeling directionless in a vast wilderness. They demand an answer from Moses:

Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert,
where there is no food or water?
We are disgusted with this wretched food!”

To make things worse, God, annoyed at their complaints, sends a bunch of snakes to hassle them.

In John’s Gospel, a disgruntled gathering of Pharisees pesters Jesus for a resolution to their questions. Even after all Jesus’ signs and preaching, they ask Him, “Who are you?”

In both instances, it is impossible for the questioners to receive the answer they seek because they lack faith.

In both instances, they are told that a sign will be lifted up before them and that then they will understand.

We’re on a life’s journey, at times confused and disgruntled, just like those ancient Hebrews.

We may be locked in faithless expectations of God, just like those debating Pharisees.

In our difficulties and challenges, will we be able to see the sign that God offers us? Not the one we design or demand – but the unexpected one rising up out of the depths of our faith?

Music: By Grace Alone – David Ward